Betrayal : the crisis in the Catholic Church /
by the Investigative Staff of the Boston Globe.
1st ed.
Boston : Little, Brown, c2002.
xiii, 274 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. ; 24 cm.
More Details
added author
Boston : Little, Brown, c2002.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter

Father Geoghan

He was a small, wiry man with a disarming smile that, from a distance, gave him the gentle bearing of a kindly uncle or a friendly neighborhood shopkeeper. It was hard to detect the darkness behind John Geoghan's bright eyes. At first glance, almost no one did.

Frank Leary certainly didn't see it. The fifth of six children being raised by a single mother on welfare, Leary was thirteen years old and had yet to learn his older brothers' tricks for ditching Mass on Sunday mornings when he first encountered Geoghan in the late spring of 1974. The priest's smiling face was already a fixture at the back of St. Andrew's Church in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston. After Mass, the parish priest would hug the mothers, shake hands with the fathers, and deliver soft pats to the backs of the children.

"He always had a big grin-it was as wide as his face," Leary recalled.

"My mother liked him. He was very popular. He was like a little imp." Leary said hello to the priest, received his friendly tap across the shoulder blades, and didn't focus on Geoghan again until the summer.

The rectory groundskeeper was Leary's friend, and Leary helped out a couple times a week, raking freshly mowed grass or gathering hedge clippings in a wheelbarrow. It was taxing work under an August sun, and one afternoon Geoghan bounded down the short steps of the rectory, offering a tall, cool glass of lemonade. Leary thanked the priest but demurred. He didn't like lemonade. But the priest insisted, and sweetened the offer. He had a wonderful stamp collection that the boy might enjoy. Soon the priest and the boy were upstairs in Geoghan's room at the rectory.

Leary sat in a large leather chair in the middle of the room, and the priest handed him an oversized book that contained the stamp collection. The priest went to the back of the room, keeping up a constant, reassuring patter. The collection did not hold the boy's interest, but Geoghan pressed the matter. "He said, `Here, I'll show you a few things.' And he had me get up and he sat down and I sat on his lap," said Leary. The priest placed his hand on Leary's knee and started turning pages that were a blur to the boy. Geoghan told him that his mother had suggested the visit. But still, Geoghan said, they should keep it a secret. All the while the priest's hand climbed farther up Leary's leg, until it reached under his cotton shorts and beneath his underwear.

"He was touching me, fondling me. I'm frozen. I didn't know what the hell was going on. He was talking constantly. He said, `Shut the book. Close your eyes. We'll say the Hail Mary.' And that's what I did." But before the prayer was finished, the boy darted from the room, hurried down the stairs, and found himself shaking behind the church.

Within a week or so, it happened again. Leary was sweeping concrete next to the church when Geoghan walked up, put his arm around the teenager, and told him how special he was. The priest then ushered Leary back into the rectory, where, Leary later said, he saw a scowling nun standing at the foot of the stairs.

Geoghan swept past the nun and directed Leary to the same chair in which the first attack had occurred. The shades were drawn against the summertime brightness. At first, the priest stood behind him, placing his hands on Leary's shoulders. He asked the boy to begin reciting the most familiar prayers of the Catholic faith: the Our Father and the Hail Mary. "I'm praying and I've got my eyes closed. And he moves over to the chair and pulls my pants down one leg. And I couldn't move. I was frozen. He had his shoulder on my chest at this point. He was praying too. And I was saying prayers, following him. I'm shaking. I felt very, very strange. I couldn't do anything."

Geoghan moved down the young boy's body and began to perform oral sex on him. "I was trying to hold back the tears and keep saying my prayers and keep my eyes closed. I didn't see him do that. I remember being pushed back in my chair."

The assault did not last long. Perhaps only a minute, Leary estimated, before it was interrupted by a sudden commotion. "Geoghan stood straight up. The door flew open. And a priest with longish white hair started yelling at him. `Jack, we told you not to do this up here! What the hell are you doing! Are you nuts?' He was yelling and screaming, and I just remember floating out of that chair."

Leary fled to a tree-shaded spot behind the school and tried to regain his composure. He sat for a while in a local cemetery, and when he finally went home, he went directly to his room. He didn't tell anyone about the assault for many years.

Geoghan had been a Catholic priest for a dozen years at the time Leary says Geoghan sexually assaulted him. As he moved through parishes in and around Boston-from the edges of the city to the tony suburbs beyond-he was known as "Father Jack" to the people in the pews. He baptized their babies. He celebrated their weddings. He prayed over their dead, sprinkling the caskets with holy water. On Saturday afternoons, he sat in the dark and, from behind a screen, listened to their sins and meted out their penance. On Sunday mornings, he delivered the word of God to them.

For faithful Catholic mothers, especially those struggling to raise a large family by themselves, Geoghan seemed a godsend. He was there on their doorsteps with an offer to help. He'd take their sons out for ice cream. He'd read to them at bedtime. He would pray with them beside their beds. He would tuck them in for the night.

And then, in the near darkness, their parish priest would fondle them in their nightclothes, pressing a finger to his lips and swearing them to secrecy.

"He looked like a little altar boy," said Maryetta Dussourd, who eagerly and proudly allowed Geoghan access to the small apartment where she lived with her daughter, three sons, and four of their cousins in Jamaica Plain. Geoghan was a calculating predator whose deceptive charm opened many doors.

As he sits today in oversized prison-issued clothing, John J. Geoghan is perhaps the nation's most conspicuous example of a sexually abusive member of the clergy, not just because of the stunning number of his victims-nearly two hundred have come forward so far-but because of the delicate and deceptive way the Church handled his sins. For more than two decades, even as two successive cardinals and dozens of Church officials in the Boston archdiocese learned that Geoghan could not control his compulsion to attack children, Geoghan found extraordinary solace in the Church's culture of secrecy.

"Yours has been an effective life of ministry, sadly impaired by illness. On behalf of those you have served well, and in my own name, I would like to thank you," Cardinal Bernard F. Law wrote to Geoghan in 1996, long after the priest's assaults had been detected. "I understand yours is a painful situation. The passion we share can indeed seem unbearable and unrelenting. We are our best selves when we respond in honesty and trust. God bless you, Jack."

Geoghan was one among many. And while the breadth of his assaults was vast, they were perhaps not as horrific as those committed by fellow priests who in some cases violently raped their young prey and then shooed them away as they resumed their priestly ministry. If it was a secret to the daily communicants and the congregations that filled the churches on Sunday mornings, it was common knowledge among Church leaders, who heard the anguished pleas from the mothers and fathers of children abused by priests. They promised to address the problem. They vowed they would not let it happen again. And then they did.

When Maryetta Dussourd discovered that Geoghan was molesting her boys-one of them just four years old-she found no solace from her friends or her church. Fellow parishioners shunned her. They accused her of provoking scandal. Church officials implored her to keep quiet. It was for the sake of the children, they said. Don't sue, they warned her. They told her that no one would believe her.

"Everything you have taught your child about God and safety and trust-it is destroyed," said Dussourd, whose claims against the Church were settled in a 1997 confidential agreement-like scores of others in which the victims received money and the Church obtained their silence.

Until January 2002, when this scandal erupted, priests were the men whose Roman collars conferred upon them the reflexive trust of parents who considered it an honor to have them in their homes. That was certainly how it had been with Geoghan. On warm summer days when he arrived without notice and offered to take their little boys out for ice cream cones, they swelled with pride and wished the priest well on his outing with their kids. When he showed up on their doorstep at night offering bedtime stories, they were certain that God had smiled on their children.

John J. Geoghan's priestly career nearly ended just as it was beginning.

When Monsignor John J. Murray, the rector of Cardinal O'Connell Seminary in Jamaica Plain, reviewed Geoghan's performance in the summer of 1954, he was not impressed. His faculty was concerned about Geoghan. They considered the nineteen-year-old seminarian decidedly immature, a characteristic not entirely evident in a casual setting. Further, they found Geoghan "feminine in his manner of speech and approach."

"Scholastically he is a problem," Murray concluded in a letter to a colleague. "To be sure he received passing grades in most subjects, but I still have serious doubts about his ability to do satisfactory work in future studies." As he considered whether to recommend Geoghan to superiors at St. John's Seminary in nearby Brighton, the next academic rung in a ladder that would lead to Geoghan's ordination, Murray opted to look on the bright side. "In his favor are the following good qualities: a very fervent spiritual life, industry, determination to succeed, happy disposition, obedience, docility, interest in and regard for others, and respected by his contemporaries. Perhaps maturity will bring to this young man the qualities he needs in order to be successful in his quest for the priesthood."

Perhaps. But the troubled Geoghan, in a pattern that would repeat itself for more than thirty years, would need help from on high. This time he found it from a monsignor he could call his own: his uncle.

Geoghan's father, whom he recalled as a kind and generous man, died when he was just five years old. And although he would later remember the funeral as spiritually uplifting, the death of his father struck the young boy hard: he wet his bed for two years as he struggled with the loss. Geoghan considered his mother a saintly woman who provided for him and his older sister a household of prayer and normalcy. It was, he said, a happy childhood. And in his mother's brother, Monsignor Mark H. Keohane, he found a father figure, role model, and protector. "The perfect substitute father," Geoghan said of his uncle, who would dress his young nephew in the vestments of a priest for festive neighborhood parades at the family's summer home in Scituate, a picturepostcard seaside community twenty-six miles south of Boston known locally as the Irish Riviera. It was a summer haunt for wealthy and influential Irish Americans, among them legendary former Boston mayor James Michael Curley.

Keohane was a formidable figure. Autocratic, old-school, domineering, and-some would say-mean. But Geoghan saw only his "great work and sacrifices." And when Geoghan again ran into trouble in the seminary, Keohane was there to run interference for his nephew.

In the summer of 1955, Geoghan failed to show up for a mandatory seminary summer camp. His superiors knew that Geoghan suffered from a "nervous condition," but they did not consider it severe enough to preclude his attendance. Besides, rules were rules. And Geoghan's decision to skip the camp without notifying his superiors imperiled his status as a seminarian. "If I do not receive a satisfactory explanation of your absence before Sunday I shall presume you have decided to withdraw from the seminary and I shall remove your name from our list of students," Rev. Thomas J. Riley, rector of St. John's Seminary, wrote to Geoghan at his home in the West Roxbury section of Boston in July 1955.

Geoghan didn't respond, but his uncle, using the letterhead of St. Bartholomew's parish in suburban Needham, where he had been the founding pastor since 1952, went to bat for his sister's boy. "I telephoned you at Brighton last week relative to John J. Geoghan, a seminarian who was unable to go to camp," Keohane wrote Riley. "He has been treating [sic] with a physician since he left Brighton, because of a nervous and depressed state. He had a letter written to you explaining his inability to attend camp, but the doctor advised against mailing it because of his depressed state. That is why I am writing. The doctor has the hopeful prognosis that within a few weeks he will respond to medication and rest so that he himself can write to you."

Riley's reply two days later from the seminary camp was tart. He accepted Keohane's explanation, but requested a doctor's report to confirm Geoghan's condition. "I need not remind you that the circumstances of John's absence from the camp raise considerable doubt as to his ability to adjust to the regimen of the seminary," Riley wrote. "Nor need I remind you how necessary it is for us to deal with matters such as this on a completely objective basis, since unauthorized concessions made to one student so easily set a precedent which would lead others to seek favors. We shall do everything within reason to help John settle his problem, but I think it must be admitted as a matter of principle that John is subject to the rule of the seminary and that his case should be dealt with in the same way as that of any other student."

Keohane did not like Riley's tone. "I resent your implication that I sought favors or preferment for John," he wrote back. He also complained that Geoghan, after three years in the seminary, "is now sick, unhappy, and appears to be wrestling with his soul."

Geoghan left the seminary for a couple of years to attend Holy Cross, the liberal-arts Jesuit college in Worcester, Massachusetts. Then, his soul-searching apparently settled, he reentered the seminary. In 1962 he took his vows and was ordained into the Catholic priesthood. It is not clear whether Geoghan's tortuous life as a seminarian was because of sexual dysfunction, depression, or immaturity. He would later tell therapists that his home was free of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse. He considered himself a heterosexual who was frightened by the sexual feelings he first experienced at age eleven. When he fantasized about sex, he focused on girls. As a teenager, he dated in group settings. He considered masturbation a sin to be avoided.


Excerpted from Betrayal by Investigative Staff of the Boston Globe Copyright © 2003 by Investigative Staff of the Boston Globe. Excerpted by permission.
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Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2003-03-01:
The Boston Globe first broke the news of widespread sexual abuse in the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. This is the full story by the reporters who unearthed it. The misdeeds of John Geoghan first attracted the paper's attention, but it soon became evident that Geoghan was only one of many more pedophile priests (over 90) that had been tolerated, and to some degree protected, by former Cardinal Bernard F. Law in his role as archbishop of Boston. This book explains both the problem of abuse within the Catholic Church and the crisis that has erupted in the wake of recent revelations. The first five chapters describe the sordid tale of what happened in Boston, complete with 45 pages of facsimile documents showing how utterly tone-deaf the church was to the problem. The last four chapters deal with the aftermath: the end of prosecutorial deference to the church, the lost of trust in the hierarchy, and calls for church reform. For readers who want the story straight from the source, this is the book to read. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All levels. D. Jacobsen Messiah College
This item was reviewed in:
Boston Globe, July 2002
Los Angeles Times, July 2002
New York Times Book Review, July 2002
Choice, March 2003
New York Times Book Review, July 2003
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Table of Contents
Forewordp. ix
Introductionp. 3
Father Geoghanp. 11
Cover-Upp. 31
The Predatorsp. 54
The Victimsp. 78
Explosionp. 98
The Decline of Deferencep. 119
His Eminencep. 141
Sex and the Churchp. 164
The Struggle for Changep. 183
The Documentsp. 205
Notesp. 251
Acknowledgmentsp. 265
Indexp. 267
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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